To someone who has never dealt with addiction, relapse appears to be a situation that occurs suddenly and unexpectedly. Research shows that relapse is actually a process that a person goes through before choosing to rely on opioids once again. Understanding the nature of relapse and your triggers helps you to define a relapse prevention plan. By planning for a relapse before it happens, you are better able to manage your choices in the moment.
What is Relapse Prevention?
Relapsing is not a decision that someone makes at the moment. Often, the individual struggles with certain issues for weeks or months before returning to opioid use. Relapse typically unfolds in three stages:
- Emotional stage of relapse
- Mental stage of relapse
- Physical stage of relapse
If the recovering addict does not have a strong support system, friends and family may only notice a problem when the relapse reaches the third and final stage.
Why is Relapse Prevention Important?
Relapse prevention serves several purposes. First, it helps the addict to identify and address potential triggers for drug and alcohol use, such as stress at work and broken relationships. Second, relapse prevention empowers the addict by pre-defining strategies for addressing each trigger. Third, addicts who are close to relapsing may not be in an emotional space where they can evaluate their resources. By having this information available in the relapse prevention plan, the person can simply refer to the plan. Fourth, relapse is not a pleasant subject for many recovering addicts. The thought of relapsing often brings about fears and doubts. A relapse prevention plan helps alleviate these fears and doubts. We will be with you for the long haul. You will have a telehealth visit with our professionals every week or even more often as needed for the entire two years. We will help you identify relapse beginning before it ever interferes with your job and family.
What Does Relapse Prevention Involve?
Each stage of the relapse process has a prevention plan so that the recovering addict can use the tools as needed.
Stage 1: Emotional Relapse
During the emotional relapse stage, a person is not considering drug or alcohol use, but certain behaviors and emotions are setting the stage for relapse. Recovering addicts who are in this stage may:
- Experience anger, anxiety and sudden changes in mood
- Demonstrate an intolerance towards others, isolate themselves from others or become defensive
- Stop healthy behaviors, such as attending meetings and asking for help
- Have trouble sleeping or eating
The emotional stage of relapse is the easiest to manage. If you notice signs of emotional relapse, simply tell us during your weekly visit. We will ask questions every week that will help us identify this state even if you don't notice it.
Stage 2: Mental Relapse
A person who is experiencing a mental relapse has internal arguments between the person who wants to use opioids as a coping mechanism and the person who wants to use new life tools and avoid drugs use. Initially, the person is not dwelling on using, but as time goes by, thoughts are more directed toward drug use. Signs of a mental relapse are:
- Being untruthful and lying
- Fantasizing about using opioids
- Thinking about past times when you were using and making those times seem glamorous
- Reconnecting with old friends that used with you
- Planning a relapse around someone else’s schedule, such as considering when your spouse will not be home
At this point, the pull of addiction is quite strong. If you are experiencing a mental relapse, we invite you to tell us during your weekly visit. With our exerience we can often help you recognize when this is happening. You should also recognize the tricks that are used by your “addiction” mind, such as convincing you that you will only use once or that no one will know that you used again. Other steps to take are:
- Contacting a friend, sponsor or fellow recovering addict. Let them know that you are considering using again.
- Find some way to spend your time on healthier activities, such as going to a meeting or for a walk.
- Wait for 30 minutes, as most urges to use again only last 15 to 30 minutes.
- Focus on today. Do not overwhelm yourself with thinking about tomorrow, next month or next year. Stay grounded in the moment.
How Do I Know If I Need Relapse Prevention?
We work with all our clients to develop relapse prevention plans. If you are experiencing any one of the stages of relapse, please contact us to receive the help you need. We are your strong, kind, non-judgmental allies and we will help you.
Being tempted to return to a life of drug use is part of recovery. Relapse prevention strategies help you recognize times when you may be at risk.